Emirati love guru Widad Lootah is not your typical marriage counsellor. She is an ultra-conservative Muslim who wears the full veil and talks a lot about sex, often quoting the Muslim holy book the Koran.
On Valentine’s day, Lootah is calling on Muslim and Arab women everywhere to “embrace love and love making.”
“Don’t shy away from it, don’t feel ashamed by it. Enjoy it, you’re supposed to,” she said, adding that she is trying to break common misconceptions that sex in Islam is only about conceiving children.
“It’s also about having fun,” she said.
Dressed in a shroud of black revealing only her eyes – a choice, she says, that allows her to emulate the Muslim prophet’s wives – Lootah was frank and explicit about the importance Islam places on a healthy sex life.
“It’s at the core” of a happy marriage, she said.
Lootah noted that her 11 years as a marriage counsellor at the Dubai courthouse made her realise that “what happens (or doesn’t happen) in bed” is the main source of marital problems in the United Arab Emirates.
Public, and in many cases private, discussions about sex are still taboo in much of the conservative Muslim world, a reality she says contradicts Islam’s approach to the subject.
There are only two simple rules for sex in Islam: you must be married “and anal sex is strictly forbidden,” Lootah said.
“Everything else, including all sexually intimate acts below the belly button, is allowed. Feel each other, touch each other, kiss each other all over … it’s OK.”
The problem is, “there is so much shame and disgrace” associated with the enjoyment of sex in the Arab world.
Lootah is an adamant believer in bringing the discussion of sex out into the open, although at times doing so has proven it can be a risky business.
In 2009, she published the much-debated Muslim sex guide Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples.
Her book, and her comments in interviews on the subject, initially triggered a slew of insults, condemnation and even threats against her life.
“They called me all sorts of things: crazy, vile, immoral, criminal,” she said.
“Some even called me a traitor and spy for Israel and America.”
Today, Lootah is probably the UAE’s most prominent marriage counsellor, known by her clients as “Mama Widad.”
Lootah has also vigorously lobbied her home government to introduce sexual education in Emirati schools.
For older teens, “it’s very important that we educate them, both males and females, about sex … we have to prepare them psychologically and emotionally for it, and we have to teach them about the act itself.”
But first, we must “educate the teachers so they can educate the students,” said Lootah, adding that such education would also help protect young children from sexual predators.
They have to be “taught what form of adult-child interaction is appropriate and what’s not,” she said.
“We need to teach them so they know to recognise the danger when it’s there.”
She said the taboos surrounding sex have also contributed to high divorce rates in the Emirates and to generally unhappy marriages.
In about a month, Lootah plans to submit her second book, Top Secret Volume Two, to the government censors, and in traditional Lootah style, its pages will contain a lot of sex talk.
But this time, the topic of discussion is forbidden sex under Islam.
“It’s about homosexual and lesbian relations and their effect on the institution of marriage,” said Lootah, adding that she had to tread carefully given the sensitivity of the subject and intense emotions it stirs in the Muslim world.
When asked why she has taken on the cause of love and sex in Islam, Lootah argued that it was an issue of “women’s rights.”
“I can’t fix everything … but I can try and fix the role of women (in sex and marriage) in the Arab world.”
As for her opinion of Valentine’s day, she says Islam forbids the celebration of non-Muslim holidays.
“But if you consider Valentine’s day as a mere reminder to show one’s love to another, then why not? I don’t object to it,” she said. But “if that’s the case, then every day should be Valentine’s day.”
Any last words of advice?
“Experience love … even before marriage, that’s OK. But don’t do anything forbidden by Islam.”